Another col ticked off…

If you’ve seen much of this blog, you’ll probably have realised that cols are an important part of my riding diet, and particularly cols over 1000m. These aren’t massive cols by Alpine standards, but many of them are a reasonable challenge for a cyclist, and it’s satisfying remembering that they are all higher than England’s highest point (Scafell Pike).

As time has gone on I’ve explored most of the ones within striking distance marked on my map, discovered several not marked, and documented many of them here.

One outstanding not-map-marked one was Col d’Herbouilly. James and I had no plans to ride it today, as we set out on a route to Col de la Bataille. But the weather looked just a little less settled than ideal at the top of Col de Rousset, and by Vassieux the rainfall radar confirmed the gloomy diagnosis: rain coming up from the south west (a familiar forecast for Devonians).

After some humming and hawing at my favourite La Chapelle café, we headed north towards Les Grands Goulets, and on the spur of the moment I suggested Villard-de-Lans as a lunch spot, and a return over the Col d’Herbouilly.

I’ll return and document it properly at some stage, but for now just to note that while the col itself is a forgettable 1370m affair, the two real interests were the viewpoint at Belvédère, with its views over the Gorges de la Borne and war-ravaged Valchevrière (preserved as a memorial to the Résistance effort of 23 June 1944), and the lovely descent to St-Martin-en-Vercors.

A few pictures of the ride…

A miscellany

​A mixed bag this time. With James here I’ve had the pleasure of taking him on rides new to him, but familiar to me. Just a shortish ride like this morning’s, to col de Pennes via Jansac and Aucelon, remind me what extraordinary scenery I enjoy around here. And then a walk from col de Rousset up the old goat track, new to both of us, brings quite different delights.

Anyway, the photos: geology from near La-Motte-Chaloncon; photos from the road home; sunflowers next to cycling friend Jérôme’s house; from the ride to Serres with James; the ‘airy’ bit of road near Jansac; lavender at Chamaloc; col de Rousset and the goat track path.

More Exeter Wheelers

Fellow Wheeler James arrived yesterday afternoon, after a marathon solo drive from Exeter. Most people (me included) would probably collapse in a heap after such an effort, but James likes riding bikes up hills, so he headed straight for Col de Rousset, whilst I created a rather good tartiflette for James and four dinner guests. (Incidentally, tartiflette has the hallmarks of being an old Alpine dish, being made from potatoes, onions, bacon and cheese – but was actually created in the 1980s as a marketing gimick for the cheese, reblochon.)

Sadly last week the weather put paid to my linking up with Wheeler Nikki, who had been staying near Mont Ventoux. We had planned to meet at Nyons (I still haven’t made it there), but with more storms forecast, I stayed local, and Nikki headed off to the Pyrennees (in a car, that is).

And today, Wheeler Richard, staying down in the Ardeche, rode up to Die…during a little matter of a 308km (190-mile) audax. (For those of you who don’t know what an audaxes are, they are organised bike rides, but ones where coffee and cake are definitely in order. In the case of a 300km audax, you have 21 hours to finish it to get your Blue Peter badge.)

To make the most of the day, Richard started at 5am, reaching Die at 11.30, where James and I met him at Banette, for, er, coffee and cake. We then rode with him for the next two hours or so, up to Col de Lescou, at the head of the Roanne Valley. At that point Richard headed off right towards Nyons and another 127km, while James and I headed left towards La Charce and thence home.

The final tally: James and I did 120km, leaving Die at noon and getting back at 6pm; Richard did 308km, leaving his base at 5am and getting back at 10pm.

And there you were thinking I’m slightly bonkers when it comes to riding a bike…

In the photos you’ll see Richard and James, a couple of snaps from the road from Die to home, plus a rather delightful roadside serve-yourself water dispenser from the Roanne Valley. Splendid.

After the storm…

Well, yesterday’s storm certainly put paid to any ideas of a late afternoon ride – the rain came down in sheets, with proper Alpine thunder and lightning, and it only stopped as light fell. It even prevented my garden-reclamation scything. The weather is no respecter of cyclists’ plans, as the riders in the Tour de France this week would attest.

This morning presented a completely different prospect, both in the physical evidence – clear air and blue skies – and in the lack of forecast storms later in the day, which has been the norm. So a longer ride was called for, to remind the legs and body what they will be doing for the next six weeks or so.

With a brisk northerly wind forecast, I picked a triangular route, with the wind on my back down to La Charce, then tacking back to Saoû and then Die along the Drôme. The route afforded plenty of photographic opportunities: the first few are from the road down to La Charce, then some of the slightly bonkers road towards Berlières, as it does battle with the geology, and finally a spectacular field of lavender on the descent from Pas de Lauzun near Aouste. The harvesting of lavender is just getting going here, and the scent is filling the air.

Storm dodging

I suppose it’s predictable that I’ll talk about the weather, as one of the reasons I’ve ended up here is the climate: I like sun and warmth. But it’s been an odd year: February allowed me to cycle 400 miles during my week here, Easter had me lighting the fire, and June guests were not exactly overheating. And the weather systems still haven’t settled, even though temperatures are now hitting 30C+ (as expected) on the better days. But still storms are popping up all over the place.

Indeed, the forecast for today had been pretty terrible, and rainfall radar showed very heavy rain all around. Today’s stage of the Tour de France was badly hit. But just for once I read the weather right here – after a couple of hours of solid rain around lunchtime, the skies brightened, and I set off on a short ride to Luc-en-Diois. But sensing that the forecast later storms were missing us, I deviated, and added on a trip up through Jansac to Col de Pennes and back down through Aucelon and the Roanne Valley. 

On the credit side, the sun made a wecome appearance; on the debit side they had been resurfacing the Roanne Valley with lots of chippings, as yet unswept, so a very slow descent back to the Drôme was in order. Still, I mustn’t complain – it’s a miracle many of these roads ever got built in the first place, so I ought not to begrudge their receiving the odd bit of maintenance.

Summer starts here…

After my usual manic summer term, plane and train have brought me back to this magical place. Thanks to non-alignment of different calendars, I find myself with seven weeks here this summer. With four different groups of friends coming to stay, I know that the time will fly by. But for now, it’s time to savour each day.

Jon, Mark and Emma have been in the house for nearly a week prior to my arrival, and after various morning activities (including Wednesday market in Die, of course), I took Mark and Jon on a ‘lasso’ route to Crest and Saoû. Mark is a speedy time triallist, and it showed on this 68-mile route, as he often sat on a cracking pace at the front. I’ll admit that my legs had had enough 10 miles from home, and I took the scenic route home, at a ‘warming down’ pace.

I’ll console myself that I’ve got more time here than I did last summer, and I certainly rode myself to fitness then. On the other hand, I am a year older…

The first photo is from the Route de Romeyer, on the (leisurely) way home, and the second of the Quint Valley, from my first short ride after Jon, Emma and Mark left this morning. The last picture is the view from where I sit to get a good data signal: it’s my ‘internet café’.